Blackberry has long been praised, and criticised for the security of it's email and messaging platform. Most recently the company has faced commercial problems in some middle-eastern countries, most notable Saudi Arabia, where the authorities wanted to be able to get access to personal emails and messages for the purposes of fighting extremism (and some say for quelling rebellion) and didn't like the services being hosted in Blackberry maker RIM's native Canada. Now Blackberry messenger has hit the headlines again in a negative way with the UK authorities saying it has been used in the last few days by youths organising gangs to loot and destroy property across London.
The riots in London, which were at first triggered by the shooting of a 29 year old man by Police last Thursday in circumstances which have not yet become clear, quickly escalated with opportunistic thugs and criminals burning cars and buildings, destroying homes and businesses and robbing and looting. In scenes seen last night in the capitol, one youth was seen robbing another of all his clothes in the street, while an injured and dazed individual was robbed of his possessions while he tried to regain his balance. These riots last night spread to other parts of England including Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham where copycat looting, destruction and violence towards the police was again seen.
Blackberry made a statement last night saying that it would cooperate with the British Police and release all messages sent by these criminal gangs to the authorities. This will take time however which is causing frustration on the streets of Britain.
Unlike Twitter, which was commonly and very effectively used in some Arab countries recently and which helped bring the people of Egypt onto the streets to overthrow their president, Blackberry messenger allows users to send secure and encrypted messages to other Blackberry users. This means the messages cannot be intercepted in real time. The Metropolitan Police in London said they believe that criminal gangs were using this to co-ordinate the riots and chaos across the city, and to inform each other of the next targets to hit.
Twitter has also been used by the youths responsible for a string of violent attacks against police and property, though these messages are open and have been tracked in real time by the authorities and the press.
Blackberry Messenger needs the Blackberry Internet Service to function, rather than using a normal unencrypted web connection. It offers facilities including chat groups and dedicated discussions while also allowing users to share pictures, audio recordings and files. Perhaps more importantly it allows maps to be shared. The network is only accessible by Blackberry devices and cannot be seen by people on other devices or desktop computers. Blackberrys have long been favourites in business because of the security and encryption they offer.
How the information share from RIM will happen is as yet unclear. So far over 400 young people have been arrested in London and it is highly likely that those with Blackberry's will have their mobile records released. However there may be a wider claim made by the police for all mobile phones within certain cell areas during the times of the rioting.
So far there are no reports of any fatalities in the UK, though the eyes of the world will be on the country ahead of London hosting the Olympic games next summer. There will be a reported 16,000 police from various forces around the UK on the streets of London tonight to try to bring the violence to an end.
In just the few minutes since this article was published, one man has been reported killed after being shot during the violence last night. There are no further details as of this time.